Defense Mechanisms:
Why & How We Block Intimacy

 

Intimacy can be incredibly elusive! Though we all desire and need it, oftentimes we ourselves are the very reason it escapes us. May the Lord illuminate our eyes to see and move beyond our defense mechanisms into fulfilling, lifelong intimacy with others.


What is Intimacy?
Authentic Depth Connection

 

Intimacy is a connection between two or more persons that is authentic and deep. Vulnerability and trust are assumed, since the authentic self is essentially and perpetually vulnerable, needing assurance of safety for expression. Intimacy is when the real Me meets the real You in a moment of trusting, soulical intercourse.
    Just as intimacy can happen between people, it can also happen with God. We enjoy intimacy with Him when our truest self is presented regularly in His presence--the good, the bad, and everything in-between. When the deepest Me approaches Him, the deepest Him can reciprocate and sweep over me (Ps 42:7). I become one with His heart and soul, going deeper than His deeds, gifts, and lordship.


Why Do We Block Intimacy?
Emotional Fears

 

Intimacy blocking is when a person employs certain behaviors to fend off potential connections. These behaviors are commonly referred to as defense mechanisms, or simply defenses. We'll get to them in a sec. In general, we block intimacy for four reasons.
    Fear of buried pain. Those with buried emotional pain are terrorized at the thought of ever reliving that pain. The greater the trauma, the greater the buried pain, the greater the fear of that pain, the greater the defense mechanisms. Consequently, they block persons or scenarios whereby that pain might be triggered and relived.
    Fear of judgment. Who likes to be criticized or picked apart? No one. Some personality types and maturity levels can absorb it or deflect it better than others, but nonetheless, judgmental criticism is not desirable or good. Some people block intimacy when they anticipate criticism.
    Fear of ridicule. Affirmation or validation is a basic God-given need. Unfortunately, many people grew up in families where validation was scarce and shame was plenty. These wounded souls shut down or lash out if they sniff out potential shame, canceling any and all connections. Who wants to let their true self out only to be belittled and ridiculed? Saul hid himself at his kingly coronation for this exact reason (1Sam 10:21,22), which, ironically, ended up happening anyway (v27).
    Fear of rejection. Just as we need appropriate doses of affirmation, so also we need a social niche, or acceptance. Some people block intimacy for fear their self-expressions would cause them to be rejected by the very group they seek identification with.


How Do We Block Intimacy?
Defense Mechanisms

 

Defense mechanisms are behaviors people employ to fend off potential connections. All of us, at one time or another, for one reason or another, have used these barriers. However, as God continues to heal us inwardly, free us from the fear of man, and purify our overall personality, defenses become less and less important and can disappear altogether.

    Also keep in mind, these defenses are, at times, erected subconsciously. We might not realize when or how much we use them until a moment of clarification dawns. May this be our moment.
 

Marketing Accomplishments

    Some people divert attention away from their soul by marketing their accomplishments. They continually put forward their victories, achievements, and blessings in their interactions with others. In a job interview this might be okay, but not so with loved ones or the Lord. They need us to be deeper than our successes.

    The needy and naïve are often impressed by such self-promotion. The confident are annoyed by it and disdain it as bragging. The emotionally whole and spiritually discerning perceive it for what it is--a defense mechanism.
 

Playing to Strengths

    Some people play to personal strengths, such as talent, beauty, heritage, wealth, and so on. This is slightly different from accomplishment-marketing. Playing to strengths spotlights what one has, while the former spotlights what one has done. This is another form of "putting your best foot forward". Again, this might be okay in a job interview, but not for intimate relationships that require a deeper self-presentation.
 

Anger

    How well does anger work as a defense mechanism? Very well. The occasional rage, a violent explosion, a bullying tone, a seething irritability, a tense face, quick movements...who wants to mess with that? Anger is certainly one of the most successful defenses. It begins to crumble, though, when someone comes along unmoved and unafraid of such childish temper tantrums.
 

Staying Busy

    Martha avoided intimacy with Jesus by staying busy (Lk 10:38-42). Being always on the go, or hyperactive, are defensive schemes to keep authentic connections at bay. Who can be close, truly close, to a person who won't slow down? This is true of both our relationship with people and our relationship with the Lord (Ps 46:10).
 

Intellectual Garble

    Sometimes the head can be the enemy of the heart. Some people, especially the intellectual and those with a high IQ, barricade themselves from intimacy by being a talking head. They use intellectual garble to avoid raw emotion, vulnerability, and real bonding.
 

"Parenting"

    Parents do not have full intimacy with their underage kids; the mental and social gap is simply too great. Similarly, adults who play the "Parent" with other adults also create a safe distance to protect themselves. Those who arbitrarily and continuously try to parent and manage those around them do so as a defense mechanism. Their conscious and subconscious logic goes something like this: If I'm your parent I don't have to relate with you heart-to-heart, soul-to-soul...because I'm your parent, remember? The Parent tactic is simply another intimacy blocker.
 

Superspiritualism

    A tricky defense mechanism that occurs often among Christians is superspiritualism. They hide their real person behind excessive Christianese, Scripture quotations, dramatic spiritual stories, talking (debating) endlessly about theological subjects, constantly saying "God told me", and so on. These annoying brethren occasionally need to be interrupted in the midst of their performances and asked, "Helloooooo, is the real You in there somewhere?" I am not at all doubting the validity of their relationship with God, or the sincerity of some of what they say. I am, however, certainly casting doubt on their spiritual maturity, emotional wholeness, and relational skills.
 

Hyperindependence

    Independence is good and necessary, but hyperindependence is a hiding place from intimacy. Isolation, lonerism, extreme privacy, and extreme social butterflying are protective structures.
 

Codependence

    Codependence is not intimacy, it is survival. It is not an authentic depth connection, it is a desperate lifeline. It is one person sucking life out of another, or two people sucking life out of each other, but not two people floating in the buoyancy of genuine interdependent intimacy.
 

Precious Lord and Father, we identify our fearful defenses, we repent of them and ask your forgiveness. We ask for more grace to practice better, Biblical ways of responding to our emotional needs and crises. In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.


How Do We Guard Our Hearts Properly?
Defenses vs Boundaries

 

Proverbs 4:23 (NIV): Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. 

    Solomon is not urging us to be defensive or non-intimate, but to have wise personal boundaries that others cannot transgress. The opposite of defensive is permissive. Swinging to a permissive extreme makes us vulnerable to the wrong people, at the wrong time, in the wrong way.

    Psalm 48:12,13 tell us the city of God had watchtowers, ramparts, and citadels. John 2:24,25 tell us Jesus Himself had boundaries. How much more should we? Not only do boundaries guard us individually from harmful people, they also guard our in-progress relationships. When intimacy begins to blossom, boundaries will protect the vineyard in bloom from intrusive, meddling foxes (Song 2:15).       

    We establish boundaries through selectivity in four areas: talk, time, touch, and tangibles. We are to be selective with our talk, the types of personal information we share with others (Ps 141:3, Pr 13:3, 18:6,7). We are to be selective with our time, carefully predetermining and administrating the time we spend with certain persons and in certain places (Ps 101, Pr 12:26, 22:5). We are to be selective with our touch, monitoring who, when, and how we experience physical contact with others (1Sam 20:41, SS 2:7, 1Th 4:3-6, 1Ti 5:2). We are to be selective with our tangibles, screening who, when, and how our belongings are shared with others (Ezr 8:21, Job 5:24, Pr 12:27).


How Do We Develop Lifelong Intimacy?
Four Right Connections

 

God desires that we develop and enjoy lifelong intimacy with others. This is done by understanding intimacy as four right connections.
 

Connecting with the Right People

    There is a type of person that is ideal for intimacy (Ps 101). We should all seek to be that person, and we should pray for these persons to be groomed and sent into our social ecosystem.

    This type of person is, for the most part, non-defensive. They are willing and wanting to emerge from their fortress to share their soul with someone. This type of person understands boundaries. They are willing to maintain limits around their talk, time, touch, and tangibles so that any blossoming intimacy would be safe. Most of all, this person is intimate with their First Love (Rev 2:4). Intimacy with Jesus is the foundation and schooling for all human relationships (Mt 7:24-27).
 

Connecting for the Right Reasons

    Intimacy is the equal giving and receiving of authentic selves, giving being the beginning and basis (Ro 12:10, 1Co 13:5, Php 2:3,4). Those who approach relationships to receive first do not have an intimacy vision. Connecting for the right reasons means giving first, receiving last. Relationships implode or explode when one or both persons put receiving first.

 

Connecting at the Right Times

    Intimacy is an opportunist. It can be heightened or microwaved at certain times. Victories, crises, and change are flashing-light opportunities to connect deeply (1Sam 20, Ro 12:15). More energy, thought, and prayer should be exerted in these times. Connect at the right times.

 

Connecting in the Right Ways

    People have different love deficits based on past experiences. People have different love preferences based on their personality. Sensitivity and observation will reveal these. Connecting in the right ways means customizing love so that deficits are healed and preferences are satisfied (Eph 4:29, Php 2:4).